Earlier in 2006, audiences got to see the dystopian thriller
V FOR VENDETTA, a movie about a futuristic terrorist out to destroy
the institutions of power in Britain that was based on a graphic novel.
Now in perhaps a bit of counter-programming for the Christmas season,
Universal released another dystopian drama set in the not too distant
future which was adapted from a novel by the esteemed British writer
P.D. James. Although Baroness James is perhaps better known for her
mysteries (she's the creator of Inspector Adam Dalgliesh), she also
has tried her hand at other fiction. In some ways, her novel
The Children of Men echoed Margaret Atwood's futuristic fiction The
Handmaid's Tale
(which was adapted for the movies), in that both
women posited a futuristic world where a totalitarian state had come
to power.

      Although it took five writers (including director Alfonso Cuarón)
to turn the book into a movie, the film version of
CHILDREN OF MEN
is astonishing. For purists, there have been countless changes made
to Baroness James' original vision, so if you are a fan of the book
and expect to see a faithful rendering, you will be disappointed.
Those who go in expecting to be entertained and challenged will be
richly rewarded.

      Now I must say that this motion picture will not be for everyone.
When I saw it at a screening for guild and academy members, there
were several walkouts early in the film. I'm not exactly sure what those
people were expecting --
CHILDREN OF MEN had already opened
overseas and reviews and summaries were readily available. If you go
in to see this film expecting a feel good, happy movie, well you've made
the wrong choice.

      
CHILDREN OF MEN opens in 2027 on the day that the youngest
person in the world, "Baby Diego" who was born in 2009, has been
murdered. The world depicted in the movie is one of chaos and decay.
There have been global nuclear wars that have devastated continents
and have led to male infertility, terrorism and the breakdown of
civilization. Somehow, England has managed to survive, perhaps partly
because of its geography. But the British government has become a
totalitarian state. In spite of this, the United Kingdom has become the
destination of refugees from around the world. The government, though,
wants to discourage the arrival of any more immigrants, so it rounds up
the illegals and places them in temporary custody in camps that bear   
more than a passing resemblance to Guantánamo, if not those built by
the Nazis in the middle of the 20th Century.

      The film's hero is Theo Faron (an excellent Clive Owen), a low level
bureaucrat who is getting coffee and hears the news of the murder of Baby
Diego. Within minutes of his leaving the shop, it is destroyed by a bomb,
a casual occurrence in this dystopian world. Still, the close call unhinges
Theo who takes the rest of the day off from work and travels to the
countryside where his old friend Jasper (Michael Caine), a hippie-ish
former cartoonist who grows his own marijuana and cares for his invalid
wife, has taken refuge.

      Upon his return to London, Theo is kidnapped by an extremist
group -- the Fishes -- that happens to be run by his ex-wife Julian
(Julianne Moore). She has a favor to ask Theo: will he use his influence
with his cousin (Danny Huston), a high ranking bureaucrat, to obtain
travel papers for a young refugee girl (Claire-Hope Ashitey). Reluctantly,
he agrees. Theo visits his cousin whose home is filled with the detritus of
salvaged art work (Michelangelo's David with one leg broken off; Picasso's
"Guernica") and gets the necessary documents. There's one catch, though:
Theo must travel with the girl. It turns out that the young woman holds a
very surprising secret. (Not for nothing is her name Kee as she holds a
key to the future.) Theo, Kee, and her traveling companion Miriam (Pam
Ferris) flee for their lives with the goal of rendezvousing with members of
a group called The Human Project -- a shadowy organization that may or
may not even exist.

      Although other reviewers have probably revealed too many plot points,
I feel that audiences should approach this film knowing as little of the
twists as possible, in order to fully enjoy it. What makes
CHILDREN OF MEN
so exciting and such a wonder is Cuarón's strong direction and the expert
cinematography of Emmanuel Luzbecki. Although the director has not been
all that forthcoming about his methods, it has been reported that several
climactic scenes were not shot in one take as originally reported. It doesn't
diminish the achievement, though. The two sequences in question are both
impressive to watch and undoubtedly will be studied in film classes in the
future.

      The film is anchored by Owen's superb performance of a man who once
had been a rebel and who had allowed himself to become passive.
Gradually, his revolutionary spirit reawakens. Moore does a nice job with
her supporting role and newcomer Ashitey makes the most of her part,
although it is more of a plot device. There's also strong support from
Caine and Peter Mullan as a mercenary with ties to Caine's character.

         CHILDREN OF MEN is an accomplished and entertaining thriller.
Depending on your own point of view, the film will be seen as either
terribly depressing or terribly hopeful. It demands to be seen and
to be discussed.




                        
Rating:                B+
                        
MPAA Rating:       R for strong violence, language,
                                                     some drug use and brief nudity
                        
Running time:      109 mins.



                        Viewed at the Universal Screening Room
Children of Men
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.